I often feel guilty for having downtime. I feel like there is always something I should be doing that will make me a more productive person. If I want to be rewarded with the greatness my ambition seeks, I need to get back to work. But what is the nature of this sharp desire to be great? Is it good or bad? Here is some of my some inner discussion on the topic.
What do I mean personally when I say greatness? I mean the need for recognition from others, financial oversecurity, or generally to be the best in whatever I do. Since I was young, greatness has basically been this conscious push to make the Earth spin in reverse direction. And even though people might nonchalantly chalk it up to being a millennial, the concept intimately influences my sacred ambition and motivation in life. If it feels this way for others, it is surely important to understand this phenomena.
From an Epicurian point of view, I might be indirectly thinking about the real, modest value of one’s life: the feeling that time hasn’t been wasted and that one is actively contributing to something greater (the direct community, for example). The Buddhist might tell me that the wanting pursuit of greatness is an unnecessary suffering, with which I could also agree after observing people who seem content living lifestyles that, to my criteria, seem uneventful. One of Plato’s Guardians would probably avoid my definition of greatness for the following blindness from the limelight.
Even though those perspectives provide insight into the idea of greatness, they don’t explain why I feel jealous at the success of others and guilty during my occassional inactivity. For that, I believe my modern societal origins of greatness are responsible. In my past living environment, the unavoidable media praised hard, grueling work and the bounding riches that allegedly came with it. The people around me compounded these beliefs by giving this attitude life. I therefore grew up with a very ambitious yet pestering to-do list that today still hangs front and center in my mind.
Is this method of operation wrong? I don’t think so. A society with a capable work ethic will survive change. But the idea does inevitably have cons that must be addressed for the sake of life satisfaction. People begin to compare their timelines with others and become frustrated or jealous. They, like me, begin to feel uncomfortable doing nothing. Their sense of time becomes hastened and they lose themselves to a nonexistent future.
Boiling all of this down, a possible treatment to the ills of greatness begins to crystallize. A definition of greatness based on recognition or wealth isn’t necessary. The contribution to the community is the potentially useful philosophical remainder that can inform a better definiton. And with this better definition in mind, we can practice patience to combat the loss of self resulting from our demanding mental to-do lists.
After adapting this solution to greatness, society might be a little less vicious, a little more calm, and hopefully more trusting in a work ethic compatible with the natural procession of time.